Tennessee’s ‘MaKayla’s Law’ meets new resistance ahead of 2017 legislative session

McKayla Dyer, 8, killed by a shotgun blast Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in White Pine. An 11-year-old boy is charged with her murder. (Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Undated photo of MaKayla Dyer, 8, who died after an 11-year-old neighbor shot and killed her with his father’s shotgun (Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel)

Republicans in Tennessee’s Legislature remain critical of a revised version of a gun storage bill rejected in the state House eight months ago.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said Wednesday she planned to reintroduce “MaKayla’s Law” in the new legislative session in January, admitting the earlier version of the bill “was too broad,” according to the Tennessean.

MaKayla’s Law is named for 8-year-old MaKayla Dyer, of White Pine, Tenn., who died in October 2015 after an 11-year-old neighbor shot and killed her with his father’s 12-gauge shotgun. The boy, Benjamin Tiller, found the loaded weapon in an unlocked closet and aimed it out the window at MaKayla after she refused his request to play with her two new puppies, according to multiple media reports.

The case caught the attention of local gun control advocates and Democratic legislators alike, who drafted a bill designed to hold parents criminally responsible for storing loaded firearms “recklessly” and readily-available to children under age 13.

The state House Civil Justice Committee voted 7-2 against the bill in March, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The National Rifle Association lobbied against the bill, arguing its Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Accident Prevention Program served the same purpose, teaching elementary-aged kids “stop, don’t touch, run away and tell a grown-up” when encountering a firearm.

“This year, we just want to amend the endangerment statute,” Kyle told The Tennessean. “We did this as a public health problem and the amendment as a deterrent.”

Kyle clarified the new law would only apply when the child injures or kills someone after finding the gun.

Senate committee Republicans worry the bill still goes too far, with Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, saying Wednesday “it’s a fine line between public safety and a slippery slope toward gun control.”

Bowling argued MaKayla’s case differs from the issue of children accidentally shooting others with negligently-stored weapons.

“The solution whether there’s actually a deterrent or a slippery slope toward more intervention … we just have to look at it and define what is what,” she said.